The vice president of Public Affairs for McNeil Wilson Communications,
Inc., talked with Kalamalama just before the winter break.
Amy Hennessey provided insight into the pros and cons of communication
and public relations careers, and what it is like to work from
the bottom up.
McNeil Wilson Communications is one of Hawai‘i’s
largest PR firms, locally owned with connections to the national
company. In 2006, McNeil Wilson won 15 awards, including Best
in Show from the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).
This is the third consecutive year that the firm has won Best
Hennessey’s basic advice to undergraduate PR majors: “Get
involved in PRSSA (the student chapter of PRSA) or IABC (the
International Association of Business Communicators) or any
organization in the field that gives you the opportunity to
develop your skills and gain insight into the industry.
Kalamalama: Where are you from and where did you go to college?
Hennessey: I was born in Florida but my family moved to Hilo,
Hawai‘i, 16 years ago. I attended the University of Hawai‘i
and graduated in 1996. I was not sure about my major at first;
however, I did like to write, and in high school I worked for
the school’s paper. Then a guest speaker came to my Introduction
to Journalism class and talked about a career in public relations.
The more the guest speaker talked about PR, the more interested
I became, so I joined PRSSA.
Kalamalama: What organizations are you involved with besides
Hennessey: In college, I was district director of the California,
Nevada, and Hawai‘i chapters of PRSSA. Being in PRSSA
allowed me to make lifelong friends.
It was great to be on the mentoring side of PRSSA. A few years
back, I started the PRSSA chapter at UH. I am the past president
of PRSSA Hawai‘i chapter, the UH student chapter liason,
and the assembly delegate for the chapter. I am also a member
of the UH Alumni Association Communications Committee.
Kalamalama: What did it take to get to where you are at McNeil
Hennessey: April 10 will mark my 10-year anniversary with McNeil
Wilson. I started out entry level. During my time here, I have
learned that it is very important to work as a team and always
keep your client’s best interest in mind. Awareness is
also important; being aware of what I do affects both clients
and the business, always keeping the big picture in mind. People
who only have self-serving interests do not get very far with
this firm. McNeil Wilson will turn 25 next year. Working here
has been great. The firm’s partners are fun, intelligent,
driven, and are great mentors too. They also are quick to defend
their employees against clients.
Kalamalama: What was your most memorable job experience?
Hennessey: The 2003 Bus Strike. We were representing both the
city and the bus company. I was on call 24/7. For the city,
we did video production to educate the public about what was
going on. We held meetings to educate the workers about what
their options were. We helped with the negotiations between
the bus company and the union. It was difficult because there
was dissension in the union ranks, which caused the strike
to drag on for 45 days. We had heard that a lot of the union
members were not happy with the strike because of how long
it was dragging on, so we produced commercial spots from the
community standpoint, trying to appeal to the unhappy unions
strikers to push a decision. It helped bring an end to the
Kalamalama: What is an unusual fact about yourself that most
people don’t know?
Hennessey: I tend to be a little shy in crowded social gatherings. If I am at
a function, I tend to gravitate toward a familiar face.
Kalamalama: What is a day in your life? How many hours do you work a day?
Hennessey: I tend to work about 10-12 hours a day. During the day I mostly manage
and assist co-workers with various tasks and projects. It’s not until the
work day is over that I tackle my own work load, which means I stay up late working.
Kalamalama: Have you any advice for students preparing for a career in communication?
Hennessey: My advice to every student is to do as many internships as you can
before you graduate. Try working at various companies such as a nonprofit, corporate,
and/or at an agency. Once in an internship, do your best even if it is not for
you. An internship is like an extended job interview. Doing this will help you
figure out what type of job you want to aim for after you graduate. Plus, you
will have a better résumé. Don’t limit yourself.
Also, know your local media, study journalists, figure out the various types
of stories they like to cover. Not only is this method efficient, it will also
prove to both your client and the journalist that you have done your homework.
Finally, networking is very important. It is important to meet young professionals,
but also remember that your classmates now are future contacts as well. I am
in constant contact with friends from college who are now my business associates.